Dario Pizzano, the left-handed hitting outfielder from the Ivy League, is certainly a thinking man's hitter. Having grown up as a very good player playing in high school ball in Massachusetts, he's been among the top players for quite some time and as such is used to seeing offspeed pitches early in counts as pitchers either try to work around him or limit the damage he can do. Part of that comes from his ability to get around on fastballs, part of it also comes from playing in the Ivy League, where -- as Dario told us himself in an interview in January -- there were only a few arms each year who could touch 90 with their fastball. Being "pitched backwards" for a long time, Pizzano hasn't had much adjustment to this point in professional baseball.
"I'd say that has definitely helped me to this point, but this year in this [the Midwest] league, I'd say it isn't as easy to look for offspeed stuff," the 21 year old said. He continued, "Guys here have good fastballs but they throw any pitch in any count. And they can command all of their pitches better."
The Midwest League is certainly known as a pitching league, but that hasn't slowed Pizzano down at all. He's reached base safely in 12 of 13 contests so far this season and has five multi-hit games under his belt, including one multi-homer game. After hitting .354/.442/.507 in 59 games between Pulaski and Everett last season, Pizzano sits at .370/.408/.587 so far in 2013. The impressive stats to this point happen for some minor league players, for sure, but the fact that Pizzano wasn't what is considered a high profile pick coming out of college is what makes it a little more eye opening than usual.
Pizzano hit very well in college, of course, but his profile took a bit of a step up with his tear in Pulaski last season, particularly during a stretch when he rapped out 42 hits -- 14 of them for extra bases -- during a white-hot August, hitting .429 and earning the nickname "La Maquina de Bateo", or "The Hitting Machine", from his Latin teammates. A brief late-season promotion to Everett saw his success continue, and the weather and pitching in the Midwest League hasn't been able to contain him yet in 2013, either. Pizzano is tied for the league lead in home runs with three and is in the Top-10 in many other hitting categories. And although he hasn't really hit a rough stretch as a pro once his career got going, he still is constantly working to improve.
"I went to Mike [Kinkade, the LumberKings' hitting coach] and asked about some balls that I had gotten hits on but that I didn't hit as well as I thought I should have just to see if he'd noticed anything and he told me he had, but that he didn't want to mess with me when I'm going well," Pizzano told me. "I'm constantly getting worked away but every once in a while they'll come inside on me," he explained. Dario continued, "I know that I should handle those pitches better than I was early in the year so I made an adjustment on getting my hands through the zone quicker." He went on to tell me that one of his early season homers came on an inside pitch that he did get his hands through quicker on.
This is a hitter that really understands his craft. We talked for a bit about how his hands work, how he generates loft and backspin, etc., and much like the pitchers that have been trying to no avail to get him out regularly, Pizzano was ready with an answer to everything that I threw at him.
The left-handed hitting outfielder, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs in at an even 200 pounds, hits from a fairly upright, quiet stance with still hands. As touched upon earlier, he has very good pitch recognition and identifies and handles offspeed pitches very well. Pizzano showed a shoulder bat tap during his time in Everett that seemed to work as a bit of a timing mechanism as his swing starts. Once the swing gets going, he has a short path to the ball with quick hands as the bat stays through the zone and on-plane very well. All of those factors allow Pizzano to make consistent, loud contact. He uses all fields and has shown improving power, something the outfielder admittedly worked on.
Pizzano recognizes that while his bat is his ticket to advancing through the Mariners' system, his outfield defense cannot lag behind the bat. On that side of his game, Pizzano spoke to me about feeling that he's better now as an outfielder than he ever has been and throwing better than he ever has, now that he is another year removed from his surgery. He's an average to slightly above average runner once underway in the field and on the bases, but he will certainly be limited to an outfield corner defensively.
Staying healthy and continuing to show that he can handle the outfield and increasingly talented pitching are the challenges ahead of Pizzano. As an incredibly bright young man with a great frame of mind, Dario's mental and physical approach and skillset should support him very well as he pushes his way up the M's minor league ladder.
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